When I was a kid at school my teacher called me something that no teacher would, or could, ever call a pupil today. He called me a ****. I was twelve, and so were the other twenty nine sniggering boys who were in the room at the time.
A bit of background. Every Monday my clarinet lesson was smack in the middle of the morning, which disrupted my Technical Drawing class, a joyless class where we learnt to draw perfect circles with dangerously sharp compasses and dissect them with straight lines. To ask permission to leave the lesson, I had to go through this wretched pantomime of putting up my hand, and him saying;
“What is it Noble?”
And me saying, or stammering rather;
“I’ve got a…a clarinet lesson, sir.”
And every Monday brought a new insult. Here’s one.
“Off to your banjo lesson again are we?”
Despite predating by some thirty years my acute interest in Appalachian music, I nevertheless felt it necessary to correct his use of the first person plural “we”….oh no, that was a dream I had….no I was terrified of him actually. And the Boomtown Rats had just released “I Don’t Like Mondays”. People said about Frank Sinatra, they said it felt like he was singing just for you, and Bob Geldof’s piercing whine went similarly to my bobby socked core.
So the **** marked a new development in this man’s reign of terror. Often, he would grace our drawings with epigrams like “well done, 3/10”, thoroughly deserved when a dissecting line was one or two degrees out of whack. Evidently it was important to start priming the kids who would go on to push Technical Drawing into the future, the men from the boys as it were, the men who were twelve from the boys who were twelve. Many a pre-adolescent boy’s dream of a glittering future that was somehow bathed in knowledge of angles and set squares was dashed on the rocks of Mr Wrack’s brutal marking system.
Anyway, the word has fascinated me since. It inspires such fear and hushed disapproval. To say this word, you have to be with a social group possessing an almost molecular familiarity with each other, because in any other situation it is a huge risk. It’s an admission of baseness, a declaration of debauchery, it reveals in its messenger a complete and absolute lack of consideration for the feelings of anyone else. To say **** is a sacrilegious act.
There are many good hearted people in the world, and some are religious and some are not. Many of the latter (I suppose I would like to count myself among them) take comfort in the smug knowledge that we do not believe in anything that does not conform to hard science, that is received wisdom masquerading as fact, that takes allegorical stories as historical document, that views as obscene anything that breaks rules originating in the faded and remote histories of places unseen and unknowable. Finally, the hard won common sense nurtured by our up-to-date knowledge and enlightened democracy has triumphed over old world superstition, mired as it was in the shock and awe of religious splendour and corruption. We see things from every angle, we refuse to bow to prejudice in any way, and in doing so we walk on brave and strong into a new world of understanding. It’s really great.
“Erm, did someone just say the c word? I don’t use that word.”
“What does that mean?”
“Well, you know, it’s….”
“Shunt, punt, hunt, grunt, runt.”
“It degrades a part of the human body that for some is…”
It’s like arguing for dinosaurs against a Creationist.
Should words have rights? I am angered and upset by the discrimination against this word on the basis of ugliness (this would not work if **** were a person), inappropriateness (oh come on, what does that mean), sexism (in a world where “dickhead” is so often the only word left to describe such a huge range of people in life). ****. Listen to the sound of it, its perfect bluntness, it’s over in a moment but it leaves such a glorious dent in any conversation. Maybe it’s too good for us? Maybe we have not yet proven ourselves worthy of its use? I think we need to show some humility in the face of a word like this.
So what does this have to do with music? Well, sitting at the piano and trying to find the next section for a piece of music I had written, I found the perfect foil in some Elton John-styled chords, which got me thinking of the eighties, then school, and then this very story. Mr Wrack. Icon of my school days. Immortalised forever in my tune of the same title. Who’s laughing now?
What a cunt.